Friday, 9 November 2012

Barack Obama And The Butthurt Brigade: What About The Internet?

Okay, you can come out now. The election is over and the black guy is back in the White House. What does this mean for digital rights and how will the riled-up Republicans affect the battle for control of the internet?


As a digital rights activist, I'm glad that the sane people won the election. For a while I was worried that the nutters might end up at the helm. Conspiracy-prone people who shut out dissenting voices, who dismiss opposing opinions, and who don't like reality much are impossible to negotiate with because of their my-way-or-the-highway approach. Other people tend to be more open to discussion and more willing to listen to points of view that they don't necessarily agree with instead of merely writing them off for coming from the wrong type of person. This leaves us with five things to consider:


  1. Who's in Congress

  2. How the Republicans respond to defeat

  3. President Obama's plans for the internet

  4. American politics with regard to IPR and net neutrality

  5. Treaties and trade agreements

To make a plan that's going to work, we need to know who and what we're dealing with, and where they're coming from.

1. Who's in Congress


Whoever holds Congress needs at least 218 seats to do it. The Republican Party has 234 seats to the Democrats' 195. This is a problem because the old ways of thinking continue. Even now, as they lick their wounds, few, if any Republicans are saying, "Our policies are wrong for the nation." What they're mostly saying is, "We didn't present our policies effectively enough." The trouble is, they did.


We do not need to change our values, but we do need to find ways to communicate them in an engaging and welcoming manner. - Hot Air.


I'm not kidding, they really do think like this:


"The white establishment is now the minority," said a resigned-sounding Bill O'Reilly, long before any swing state had been decided. "And the voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff." - New York Magazine


This is important to note because Congress is where laws usually begin. If we're going to make the changes we want, we need to get them passed by a bunch of mostly gung-ho religious authoritarians who think they know best even though they don't like reality much. These are the people who can't be bothered to take on the surveillance and the secret treaties and they're certainly not interested in reforming those unfair copyright and patent laws that are causing all the problems. Digital rights issues are still worth fighting for just to get them on the table but let's be honest here; we're unlikely to get anything done until after the mid-terms when hopefully there will be more Democrats in Congress. That might not be enough, though: the Democrats are as guilty as the other lot of crony capitalism and also tend to suck up to moneyed interests. The good news is, their base is much more likely to hold them to account for their misdeeds, but will it be enough? We can only keep trying and find out as the results of our efforts come in.

2. How the Republicans respond to defeat


At the moment it's hilarious butthurt, denial, and finger-pointing. Their election plan consisted of projecting their failures onto the other side as if the internet didn't exist:


Republicans greeted Barack Obama’s presidency with a calculated wave of total opposition. They would not cut a deal on health care or on the federal budget, each time accepting the risk of total defeat rather than settling for half-measures, like giving Democrats some kind of token health care reform or small tax increase. - New York Magazine


But the only way you can safely remain in a fact-free bubble is to lock out dissenting voices and surround yourself with people who agree with your point of view. Using shaming to silence or stifle dissent in order to force people into lockstep and bombarding people with variations of the same theme over and over again left the majority of Repbublicans convinced that they were reasonable, moderate people and that anyone who disagreed with them was some kind of socialist liberal intent on destroying America. They just couldn't accept the idea that maybe, just maybe, they'd lurched so hard to the right that reasonable, moderate people simply couldn't accept their values. When they did that dismissive paternalistic thing that works on people afraid of being labeled liberal to the rest of us, we laughed at them and walked away. And as a result of this, they STILL DON'T GET IT. It's funny if you're in the right mood. See the butthurt and crying here, here, and here. Basically, they're nuts, and you are what you attract so be sure to read the comments on the Breitbart, Michelle Malkin, and National Review blog posts I've linked above. So basically, I'm concerned that the gridlock may continue until the Republican intransigents are voted out of office.

3. President Obama's plans for the internet


The President's record on human rights sucks mightily. He was trying to be bipartisan by taking on some of the old Bush advisers but he listened to them and now we've got that imperialist agenda to deal with. Global plans to control and censor the internet to protect the failing business models of the legacy content industries continue, along with the draconian enforcement measures by the DOJ that led to the arrest of Richard O'Dwyer and of Kim Dotcom, whose comical attempts to reboot MegaUpload in Gabon is failing because they don't want the Americans leaning on them. He seems to be unaware that the USTPO has had "experts" roaming the globe to "educate" the authorities in other countries about copyright, etc. You can almost imagine an Agent Smith type with an arm around an African official saying, "Nice country you've got here. It'd be a shame if anything was to happen to it."

There's also the cyberwars and the "Big Brother" surveillance to deal with. Most of that is built on FUD to fatten the wallets of "security and anti-terrorist" companies and that's why we need to fight it. They can moan about the deficit when they stop wasting money on security theatre.

4. American politics with regard to IPR and net neutrality


That's a biggie. Libertarian-leaning Republicans are happy to leave us with a free-for-all in which the telcos launch a land grab for the internet, which can then be parceled up into gated gardens instead of having everything working together for the public good. This is the problem: hatred of government interference and control does not need to mean hatred of governance itself and leaving us to the tender mercies of market forces in a Darwinian nightmare. Then there's the notion of property = freedom which now extends to creativity and culture. Which means that when you put fences around ideas and declare them to be property, we have a problem when enforcement of those property rights is enacted. What we need to do is work to separate the notion of property from creativity in order to promote a free and fair society.

5. Treaties and trade agreements


President Obama got hammered during the election for failing to get any free trade agreements signed while in office. This isn't actually true but I was part of a movement that pulled ACTA down in the EU Parliament in July this year because it was massively unfair. ACTA is still floating around and we still have to keep an eye on that. The IPR lobby isn't going to back down so we have to be vigilant. We have to help the fights against treaties in other countries, e.g. TPP, because the precedents set by them are used to ratchet up the provisions and penalties for infringement at a time when it needs to be relaxed. We're also fighting off efforts to sneak patents on software in by the back door into Europe so we've got to keep our eyes on the ball. It's better to push for reform and ring-fence it than keep playing whack-a-mole with legislative efforts to curtail our freedom.

Conclusion


Well that's what we're up against. That, and rage fatigue. We've got to keep going, though. Celebrate every victory, however small, to remind yourselves of why it's worth fighting.

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